Certainly there have been times when I've lived my best life – in love, on holiday, asleep – but as a general rule I've always preferred I was somebody else, anybody else. The lives of others seem far more appealing and substantial. I go about things the wrong way, a sort of mental defective, absent-minded, timid, ratty, unreliable, impractical, a vacant lot, asleep. Other people seem to know their way around. Other people lead uncomplicated lives. Other people are called Tony and Kelvin and good old Baz. I want to be one of those guys and recently, briefly, I lived that dream.
A man called Graeme of Masterton sent me an email. He liked something I wrote. This happens quite a bit – that's the thing about other people, they're very kind – but no one has ever come up with an opening as flattering as this: "By way of introduction we run a rural cartage business in the Wairarapa and in the summer we specialise in the cartage of conventional hay, which is an activity you are obviously familiar with."
I am obviously familiar with the cartage of conventional hay.
Graeme continued, "During the summer someone brought to my attention your article … I especially loved reading about your years of hay carting and every word rang 100 per cent true with myself and the staff who read the piece."
I have years of experience of hay carting.
"I wanted to print the article off and frame it for our tea room but never got the opportunity. I was wondering if you would have a copy of it available for us to show off? If it's of any comfort the work is still as you describe it and hasn't lost it's charm. The dust, heat and sweat are still a wonderful mix."
The rest of Graeme's letter was just as fantastical. He'd got the wrong end of the stick somewhere and mistaken me for someone else – that's another thing about other people, they're always elsewhere – but the more I read on, the more I longed to be whoever it was he was so joyously describing. I thought: actually maybe I am that guy. Maybe I know my way around hay, maybe I'm a dusty, sweaty, uncomplicated rooster; yeah, gidday, I'm making hay while the sun shines, howzit, fancy a beer, I'm good old Steve.
No, wait. Of course I'm rural, can read the weather patterns and calve a bull or whatever, but I don't confirm to a crude stereotype. I studied languages, commerce and dentistry at Otago University. The carting of hay paid my way. "We have turned a heap of young men and women into adults with a couple of hay seasons in the sunny Wairarapa under their belts," wrote Graeme. "Most seasons I start off with a page full of names and by the end of the season it whittles itself down to a hardy bunch of 20 or so ... They generally head off to university or apprenticeships." I was one of those 20 or so hardened veterans of hay alongside Tony and Kelvin, also good old Baz, and Bobbi-Sue, who I married. We had three children.
It's been a good life. Actually there was the time I lost everything in a flood, and Bobbi-Sue ran off with a stock agent from PGG Wrightson. I turned to drink. Two of the kids don't talk to me anymore and the third stays in his room. He'll come right. He's 49.
But other than that things are straightforward. Last year my consciousness was raised by Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. I have a semi-automatic and it's none of your business what I do with it. The world is coming to an end; are you prepared?
Now and then I paint watercolours. Tony and Kelvin don't come around much anymore since their civil union. Baz is dead. I travelled to the wine-growing regions of Bordeaux during the harvest. It stirred memories of dust and heat, and I wrote an article about my years of hay carting.
"From a selfish point of view I'd love to keep the majority of them in the transport industry," Graeme wrote of the youngsters who carted hay hither and yon under hot Wairarapa skies, "but like your formative years I realise it's a short phase in their lives and something that they'll look back on later in life and recognise as a character-forming experience."
It was a really great letter. I wrote to Graeme and regretfully told him he had the wrong guy. Nice to live someone else's life for a little while, even though it wasn't perfect. That's the thing about other people. They're so complicated.